Are Manufacturing Business Marketing Plans Over Reliant On Digital?


When building manufacturing business marketing plans is there a danger of concentrating too much on digital and forgetting offline marketing? Small to medium sized manufacturing businesses are different. Their target customer base may be relatively small, key customer retention is generally all important and the sales cycle may be months, even years. Marketing techniques that work in other B2B verticals and B2C are often simply not valid.

Much published marketing advice seems to focus on Brand (you can read my rant on that subject here), digital marketing and inbound marketing. There is very little comment on what works for smaller B2B and manufacturing businesses. The information that is available generally tries to twist what works for B2C to the needs of B2B.

I am not suggesting digital marketing and inbound do not have a place because they certainly do but I happen to believe offline also has an important role. Two pieces of research in 2014 perhaps support my view. The first from Content Marketing Institute is focussed on inbound (content) marketing but still shows in person events (exhibitions / seminar) as the second highest most effective marketing tactic. The second from SoftwareAdvice showed Trade shows, referral marketing and in house Email as the most effective.

It is important for manufacturing businesses to take a step back, resist jumping on the latest bandwagon and assess what marketing process is really best. The starting point for that process has to be a strategic review.

Strategic Review And Marketing Planning

The exercise does not need to be complex; all that is required is a re-evaluation of what the business sells and to who. What need does the business products or service satisfy, who needs that product or service, who else satisfies that need and (crucially) why should prospects buy from the business ahead of the competition.

It is vitally important to identify what is to be pitched and to who before trying to evaluate the best way to reach them. Too much marketing spend is routinely wasted on the latest trend or what appears to be a good deal without evaluating if it will actually reach and engage the target customer base.

Target Your Potential Customers

With the pitch and the target customers in place only then is it possible to decide the best way to reach them. Social media works well for some businesses but not (in general) for B2B manufacturing businesses where the target customers are often not active on social media channels (LinkedIn excepted).

Your website may be great for existing customers who know it is there and use it as a resource but what about prospects? Can they find your website when they type relevant search phrases into a search engine? Of course, paying for SEO (or PPC) may solve that problem but both tend to be expensive so funds may be best spent elsewhere.

Blogging and all the other elements of content marketing are great but how do you ensure all that information is delivered to a point it has the best chance of being read and engaged with. There is not a lot of point in talking if nobody is listening.

What About Outbound Marketing

As stated above well-chosen exhibitions, seminars and workshops are all effective. Target customers are likely to be there, it is possible to interact with them and deliver the information they need. They can ask questions directly and objections may be addressed. However, exhibitions are generally expensive so it is essential to work out potential returns in advance and track the actual ROI.

There are those who try to classify Email as inbound. Call me a cynic but this is probably because it makes the inbound statistics more attractive. What is true is Email marketing is highly effective if it is content rather than sales message based. Assuming a high quality list and an appropriate CRM system are in place Email allows a manufacturing business to reach out to their customer and prospect base.

If a business has a good story, be it product or business related, then press coverage in appropriate publications still has high credibility and excellent potential reach to the target customer base. The only problem is how to effectively measure the impact. The measurement issue also applies for direct mail that can be effective as a last resort if there is no other way to reach the prospect.

There is however a common theme running through all the outbound techniques that should not be ignored and that is they all need some form of content. Without valid and engaging content they will not work and that leads to the conclusion that the best manufacturing business marketing process is an appropriate mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques.